Ballroom Dance Veteran Tells It Like It Is!! Ron Montez

August 08, 2000

Dennis Rogers interviewed Ron Montez recently, one of the most respected personalities in the dance business, via telephone from Ron's family home in San Diego, California. Montez, the co-host of PBS' Championship Ballroom Dancing, was the seven-time undefeated United States Professional Latin Champion, World's and British finalist. He is a coach and adjudicator in the United States and internationally and is recognized as a coach and choreographer in both American and International styles including swing. In addition to the instructional dance videos he and his wife Karla produce, they also have a dance camp in San Diego where they reside with their family.

DSA Digest: How many competitions do you judge per year? How do you decide which ones to attend?

Ron Montez - I usually judge six to eight comps per year and try to spread them out throughout the year.

DSA Digest: As a group, is your compensation fair and equitable? Other than monetary value, what do you achieve or hope to accomplish by judging? Should judges be required to pass an exam on a regular basis?

Ron Montez - Yes. The pay is very little. It's enough to be called fair; but compared with teaching or lecturing it is quite a bit lower. Speaking for myself, judging is something I do, not for the money or else it would be a very poor decision. I do it to be involved in the judging experience.

I don't think exams are the answer. I think that an examination could be studied for, one could pass it and probably still not be a good judge. I feel that it would be helpful if there were, within each teaching organization, some seminars or workshops or viewpoints from some of the busier judges on what they look for, how they handle certain situations, for judges who are starting out, how to become a judge, etc. Doubt an exam would really help the situation at all.

DSA Digest: Many have suggested that judging and coaching in dancesport constitutes a clear conflict of interest. Some have suggested that one register to be a coach one season and then a judge during another? What ideas do you have to free the industry of this conflict, either real or perceived?

Ron Montez - I think you can't avoid that conflict the people who are on the cutting edge of ballroom dancing are going to be coaches and judges as well. There's going to be a little overlap there, no matter what we try and do. People who are foremost authorities in our dancing field, a lot of them are coaches. I'm not speaking for all of them, but this is generally true. In the end result we have to rely on the judge's integrity to judge in an objective way and to maintain a professional attitude.

DSA Digest: Do you think the judging as it now stands will hold up for Olympic competition? If not, how would you change it and according to what timetable?

Ron Montez - I sincerely hope so. I hope our judging system does not change. A very integral part of our ballroom competitions is to have the couples compared against one another on the dance floor at the same time. Also, their skills and floor craft and maneuverability. Also, their ability to conduct themselves as performers and as competitors on a floor with other people at the same time is an essential part of a professional competitor's development. If couples perform one at a time, I think the whole thing will change. Of course, we have that too. But we don't compete at that level normally. I think we have to try and keep it as it is. Maybe, it's been said, that it's not the best for the viewing pubic. But with the camera work the way it is nowadays, with the ability to follow couples, I think it will end up ok.

DSA Digest: Who are we going to send to the Olympics: Pros or Amateurs?
(Dennis interjects here that the IOC rules mandate that you must accept professionals.)

Ron replies: If that is in the cards, if that is the way it is destined to be, then we'll have to go along with it. It is radically going to change our dancing in our country. It is going to change some of our competitions. We're going to have to have qualifying events. Unless we send the top three or four pros and the top three or four amateurs then we won't have to compete against each other to quality. But I don't see how that can happen. It doesn't happen in any other activity. So there's going to be some conflict there. There will be a tremendous development in youth. The general public will become aware of it. They'll want their kids to learn it. Dance teachers will become a lot more busy. Dance lessons, in some places, will have to be a lot cheaper to accommodate more people.

DSA Digest: Tell us what direction costuming should go for men and women in both Standard and Latin. What are your opinions about body piercing, scanty costumes, winking at judges, suggestive dances?

Ron Montez - Standard is no problem. The gals are quite lovely. Most of the time, the men are suitably attired and look great. In the Latin I think we have a little problem. Sometimes the younger or newer couples, trying to attract attention, dress inappropriately. They go to extremes. In some cases, nudity is a problem. If this is exposed to the public it could give a bad name to ballroom dancing. We are not trying to be a Las Vegas Show. We're trying to show our expertise and artistry as dancers. The greater majority of the costumes are ok, but it is something we have to watch out for.

DSA Digest: Now that TV has entered the scene and lights, camera equipment and microphones are part of life, how does that affect your judging?

Ron Montez - It does not affect my judging at all. As professionals we should be able to cope with it. It is a sign of progress, it's good for our dancing to have exposure on TV. We should be able to sacrifice a little bit here and there for the purpose of spreading our art. A little inconvenience here and there, some cords, wires or cameras are part of the growth. All of us can handle it and most of us are ready to take it in our stride. Shouldn't cause any great problems.

DSA Digest: Dancesport is the fusion of art and athleticism. What do you recommend to keep an appropriate balance between the two so that it does not become too much of one or the other?

Ron Montez - Of course, dancing is a form of athletics. We rank our couples, like in any other sport, first, second, third place, etc. The placing of one couple over another also seems to remove it from the artistic field because we don't rank one against another. It is a matter of preference. We do have a blend of artistry and athleticism but it's a good blend. If we rely too much on one, eliminate the other, it loses its appeal. The physicality of dance is obvious. But that shouldn't be the ever-present, visible aspect of ballroom dancing. It should look effortless, in character, in some cases, romantic. All those images that ballroom dancing brings up in the mind. But, if we rely too heavily on just the physical, the power, the speed, then we lose some of that. We need a good balance of the two.

DSA Digest: The world-wide language of ballroom dance, the number of dances, all there is to learn can be very complex and confusing. How can it be pared down so the general public can be educated and understand what they are viewing on TV?

Ron Montez - The public understands things like the pentathlon and the triathlon, the decathlon. They understand that it is a grouping of events that the winner comes out overall. I don't think we're much different than that. We have five dances so we have a pentathlon of ballroom dance and the winner is the winner over the five dances. What we could do is have a winner in each dance and we could do it by dance like they do in the British Championships and come to a winner using that as a basis for adjudication. But I think the public will be able to understand it easily. Not a big problem if it is presented right by the announcers on TV. It will probably work.

DSA Digest: How important is it for the competitors to know and understand the judge's evaluations after the fact?

Ron Montez - Some competitors pay no attention to it at all. They benefit in some ways because they get no ill feeling toward a judge who may have marked them down. They just realize they have to work and they continue working. If it were possible to see their markings overall without referring to the exact personalities that would be beneficial to them as well. But the problem is that some couples look at their marks, attribute it to the judge who gave them the bad marks, and play games. They try to take lessons from those judges, etc. The availability is good but it does cause some problems with couples who use that in a negative rather than a positive way.

DSA Digest: If you could be the king of dance sport for a day and rule the world, what would you do, what would you change? What is the single, most significant thing you would change about dancesport to attract more viewers and enthusiasts?

Ron Montez - I would say competition dancing has developed quite successfully. Maybe it is a little too capitalistic; competitions are sometimes too expensive. We need to allow the general public to get an inexpensive ticket with good seating. One of the sad things that happens is that we go to competitions around the country and we see the same people there. The spectators are those participating in the competition. Maybe a few locals, but they're locals usually from the dance studios. There is very, very little representation from the general public who may be really interested in a great show but they never get the exposure simply because the organizers know they have a sure thing here with the people who travel all over the place to these events. We have enough competitors who will come and support pro-ams, etc. But because of space restriction, advertising challenges, we don't open up to the general public. There is a lot of room for growth there.

A recent Canadian competition I judged, the Snow Ball, was organized by amateurs. Of course, we all know that amateurs are members of the general community placed in strategic spots with their jobs so the advertising, print and airline was all sponsored out. The general public was well aware of the competition. It was sold out each night to general spectators, outside spectators, not just dance studio types. We need to grow in that direction. I understand the organizer's problems having been one myself. But we need to try to expand and look at other ways to make dancing available to everybody like going to a movie or another sporting event.